Joe’s Journal

A Modest Proposal revisited

Ramblings from an old scribbler
Wed, 06/22/2022 - 7:45am

Last week, this column chided some major newspaper chains for eliminating and cutting back on opinion pages, including my favorites, called letters to the editor and op-eds.

We argued that those actions censored opinions of those who disagree with those who own and produce the offending newspapers.

These overleveraged and self-serving companies risk our tradition of freedom of speech.

Without a free discussion of policy and politics, we are all left in the dark, becoming easy prey for mercenaries and hate mongers peddling baloney at the behest of anyone who gives them a check or slips them 30 pieces of silver.

The column also suggested the current president is not responsible for shortages of baby formula and certain feminine hygiene products. It also opined the former president was not responsible for the invention of the COVID virus or a TP shortage. Some disagreed. Some disagreed at great length.

There is a lot waiting on the desk of any president. It is a big job featuring all the major national and world issues, all guaranteed to generate headaches galore. You can blame the president for a lot, from inflation to taxes. But dear readers, he is not the guy in charge of TP or Tampax. Somebody is, but I do not believe it is the job of the current or the former president.

And, by the way, while the president faces heavy responsibilities, his annual pay is a lot less than the paycheck of a good pro point guard or a quarterback on a second-tier team. For the record, the current president makes $400,000 a year, the same as the last two presidents. That doesn’t include a $50,000 expense allowance, $100,000 for travel expenses, or other entertainment allowances, according to Title 3 of the U.S. Code.

A handful of our faithful readers took me to task for defending the current president or attacking the former one. And, they took off with lots of accusations that the current president and his political allies are responsible for inflation, failing to prevent the war in Ukraine, and most of the rest of the evils in the world.

That is fair enough. We call this freedom of speech. We live in unsettling times, and political passions run high.

These reader comments underscore the main point of the column: When newspapers eliminate the op-ed columns and letters to the editor, they censor readers by not providing them a place to voice their opinions.

Our readers are interested in politics and many local topics. Our pages devote lots of space to telling you about restaurant openings/closings, civic festivals, schools, public safety activities, and taxes.

You won’t find national and regional papers or TV shows telling you about the Southport Island broadband plans, the Wiscasset waterfront referendum, or the story behind the closing of a popular restaurant. They won’t show you photos of our joyous school graduation celebrations, praise a local retired clergyman, or bring us the sad news that our friends and neighbors have passed away.

Our letters pages are open to readers who take the time to drop us a line praising this or condemning that. Our online version of the paper also invites readers to comment on whatever is on their minds. And they do.

Recently, I noticed Spectrum, a national company that rakes in millions from you, me, and the rest of us has started posting news feeds of a local nature.

Where do they get the local news?

Do they send out reporters to cover events in Boothbay, Wiscasset and Damariscotta? Do they pay wise editors to check for facts and fairness?

No, they visit the websites of our state and local papers and click on “copy.”

If you went into a Hannaford market, pocketed a bunch of bananas, and a bottle of booze, ducked the cash register, and waltzed out the door, you could get a back seat ride from Sheriff Todd Brackett or Police Chief Bob Hasch.

But the big shots at Spectrum can steal the fruits of our labors and waltz away while pocketing cash by selling ads on their site.

Meanwhile, all over the nation, local papers scramble to compete with the big shots for advertising dollars. But, we have a subtle advantage.

While they can advertise that folks click on their stories, our faithful readers subscribe to and purchase the local paper and read it online. Surveys tell us that the whole family sees and reads the ads from our local merchants. That means they buy local products and services.

Finally, one of our readers said the time has passed for folks on one side of the political world to sit down and discuss issues with folks on the other side.

I don’t believe that for a minute.